Air Compressors – The Bigger the Better

From Simoniz USA

Compressed air is critical to running an efficient express detail operation.  Not only is compressed air required to run a carpet tool,  A LOT of compressed air is required; about 12 CFM at 90 PSI to achieve 2,000 RPM. Remember, it is not the PRESSURE that is required but the VOLUME.  The typical rating for a compressor is in Cubic Feet per Minute or CFM.  This measurement is used to express what volume of air the compressor can deliver to any given tool.  Without at least meeting the requirement, the compressor will be unable to sustain continuous operation.

The trouble is that compressors which deliver the volume of air required to run a carpet tool are considered to be expensive and require a dedicated circuit of 240V to operate properly.  Add a couple of blow guns to the compressor load and you have a conundrum.  If you go to small on the compressor, it will cycle continuously.  On a busy day, it will not be able to keep up with demand and will slow down, become ineffective, and eventually halt interior cleaning services.

If you go large, you have to spend the extra money and may have to hire an electrician to have it installed.  So is a big compressor worth the expense?  Most of all, how do you know when big enough is well, big enough?  The best thing to do is to match the manufacturers’ recommended air requirements for the tools you intend to use, add up the total air required.  This should ensure you have adequate air to conduct continuous cleaning operations.  Here is one example….

Florida Pneumatic Carpet tool – 12 CFM at 90 PSI
OSHA Approved Blow Gun - 10 CFM at 90 PSI
Total Required CFM – 22 at 90 PSI


One look at the cost of any compressor on the market that is capable of 22 CFM at 90 PSI and you might as well remortgage your business!  Remember, the key word here is continuous operation.  A compressor of the above specifications should be able to keep up with the attached tools indefinitely.   The thing is there isn’t one detail shop that is using its air tools continuously.  The tools are used, set aside, and the compressor has time to cycle and fill its tanks.

So how long would that reserve air last?  Well, a 60 gallon tank holds about 8 cubic feet of air, so if the compressor was turned off and the tool used 8 CFM, the reserve air would last about one minute.  Keep in mind as the air is drained from the tank, the pressure drops and so does the performance of the tool.  Applying this to a real world scenario, when using a carpet tool to clean a car, expect your air compressor to kick on during use, and switch off after use (after the tank has filled).


You may come across different acronyms in your search for a compressor.  Ratings of such as CFM, ACFM, and SCFM are all common, but the difference is they are measured under different parameters but represent roughly the same thing.  In my opinion the minimum required rating should be about 10 CFM at 90 PSI.  Taking into account cycle time and typical use, this compressor would meet the requirements of most situations.

Cost for such a compressor can range widely.  A home improvement store may carry a suitable model from $400-$600, a discount tool warehouse may be slightly cheaper but you can always find higher quality, more robust models at a higher price.


To summarize –

  • Go big!  You can never have enough compressed air;  minimum of 10 CFM at 90 PSI
  • Spend a little more now to save in lost revenue later; avoid work stoppages/slowdowns
  • Plan for a separate circuit for safe installation;